SMITH: Homeschooling Offers Educational Freedom After Coronavirus

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J. Michael Smith Contributor
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Editor’s note: We endeavor to bring you the top voices on current events representing a range of perspectives. Below is a column arguing that homeschooling is a great alternative to public school and will find greater popularity after the pandemic. You can find a counterpoint here, where Charles Kolb, deputy assistant to the president for domestic policy under George H.W. Bush, argues that although it has seen an uptick in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, homeschooling will not replace the public school system.

“We Are Fam-i-ly, I got all my sisters with me . . .” and my brothers and mothers and fathers . . . Like in this 1979 Sister Sledge hit, we are all in this together, whether we want to be or not.  In the United States, about 50 million school-age kids and their parents are schooling at home, alongside the almost 2 million American students who are already being homeschooled. We are all doing homeschool or pandemic school — whether we chose it, or it chose us.

Homeschooling is educational freedom. It’s a deliberate choice to provide a tailored learning experience, ensure a nurturing environment, choose curriculum and weave learning into life, whatever the reasons — stronger academics, protection from bullying, management of anxiety, different learning styles or special needs. Cooking with doubled recipes is practical math. Laundry is a life skill. A trip to the grocery store is a lesson in budgeting. Homeschooling parents decide they want the freedom to direct their children’s education and embrace 100 percent the responsibility that comes with taking charge of their child’s education — a weighty commitment.

Pandemic school, on the other hand, is not something parents chose. It’s really public school distance learning. Parents have no say in curriculum or the schedule given to them. For now, working-at-home parents have precious little time to pivot and figure out each new app, turn in assignments and juggle a new demanding workload at home. Some kids and families thrive in distance learning, but many others are finding it very difficult, not to mention annoying.

The Associated Press reports that parents are finding pandemic schooling exhausting and unsustainable. NBC’s Today magazine says some parents have simply given up on public school demands. And HSLDA is being contacted by others who are withdrawing from public school and piecing together a homeschool plan that fits their life right now.

The freedom of homeschooling allows parents to teach a growth mindset through example. They can find a curriculum that fits their child’s learning preferences and let them learn at their own pace. They can also build new skills by gardening and maybe learning a new language. This is a time for families to grow and learn together — which can look different for each family.

Parents are actually leveling the educational playing field for their children, according to the UK’s National Literacy Trust, which says, “Parental involvement in their child’s literacy practices is a more powerful force than other family background variables, such as social class, family size and level of parental education . . .”

“But I’m not a teacher” is a concern we hear often — but guess what? Parents don’t have to be experts in everything. Parents have a huge advantage over any teacher or PhD: they know their child, what works for them and how they learn. Parents can learn alongside their children or outsource what they don’t know to an expert friend, co-op or online class.

A bonus to homeschooling is parents who participate in it will end up being one of the most knowledgeable people they know. Unlike public school or private school, parents will teach or supervise every subject their child takes. The reality is the teacher learns more than the student. At homeschool conferences, I have had the opportunity to speak to many parents and invariably ask the question, “Who is learning the most? You or your children?” The answer without hesitation is always the parent saying, “I am.”

And more importantly, parents will have more time to build deep and lasting family relationships, one of the gifts of homeschooling. And parents have the freedom to share their values and faith with their children, giving them a strong sense of family and self to deal with the chaos in their world right now.

During this pandemic, why not join “our family” in intentional homeschooling? Homeschooling is a robust educational option that offers solutions that help children to thrive now and beyond this pandemic.

J. Michael Smith is the president of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association.